By Sgt. Maj. Michael PintagroMay 16, 2014
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. - A 21st Theater Sustainment Command broadcaster demonstrated his organization is not only "First in Support," but "Radio Strong," claiming a prestigious Department of Defense-level Thomas Jefferson Award for audio excellence May 9.
Sgt. Benjamin Boggess, one of only two U.S. Army Europe and 10 total individual or unit Army awardees, accepted his award during the Communicators of Excellence awards ceremony conducted at the joint public affairs schoolhouse at Fort Meade.
Senior public affairs leaders, program managers and awardees from all services as well as the Defense Media Activity participated in the annual awards presentation, which honors the top performances in miltary media.
Defense Information School officials and leading military public affairs luminaries recognized the most outstanding photographers, videographers, photojournalists, photographers, electronic media communicators and products of 2013.
Boggess' radio news story on an intensive pre-deployment route clearance exercise conducted by sappers from the 18th Engineer Brigade's 54th Combat Engineer Battalion in Hohenfels triumphed at combatant command and Department of the Army levels before defeating the top Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Defense Media Activity nominees for the 2013 "TJ."
A combination of dedication, preparation, technical mastery and good fortune helped Boggess capture the award-winning footage. But he didn't feel particuarly fortunate at the time.
"Honestly, it was so cold outside; I was trying to keep close to the guys I was filming," he said with a laugh. "They were scattering all through the woods because of the heavy snow. I was just trying to keep up with them. I guess I was lucky to wind up in the right place."
The arctic conditions deterred command information colleagues, two of whom retreated in the face of numbing cold and driving snow. But Boggess' perseverence in the face of the elements paid off.
"The engineers did a different scenario every day, so there was an incredible variety of great training to shoot," he said. "It kept snowing the whole time. I think that was the coldest I've been in my life - but I got some amazing shots."
The engineers did their part, furnishing a remarkable story for Boggess to tell.
"The training was amazingly realistic," he said. "The engineers were using the actual equipment they were bringing with them to Afghanistan. It was one of the most realistic combined arms exercises I've ever shot - there were attack helicopters providing overwatch for maneuvering companies throughout the exercise."
"It's almost impossible to prepare for some of these things, but I put myself in the right place at the right time," he added. "I knew the kind of situations that would produce great shots, and I tried to stay in position to take advantage of the opportunities when they arose."
The 29-year-old Scottish-born, American-bred broadcaster started his military career as a fire support specialist in 2007. After completing an Operation Iraqi Freedom tour as a FISTER, Boggess retrained at DINFOS. His first assignment as an Army broadcaster took him to TSC headquarters in Kaiserslautern in the summer of 2011. Boggess devoted most of his first year to building on schoolhouse training and refining his craft. He proved a quick study, emerging as a leading TSC producer by his second year with the TSC.
Interestingly, his DOD triumph came outside his specialty. Boggess, whose television pieces appear ubiquitously on the American Forces Network, devoted the vast majority of his time and energy to video stories on TSC personnel, operations and training.
As his award-winning radio story demonstrates, however, Boggess' versatility and ingenuity allow him to excel across the dial. The TSC broadcaster earned critical acclaim from some of the career field's most distinguished leaders as well as DOD judges.
"Anyone can push out product," said Sgt. Maj. John E. Brenci, the sergeant major of Army Public Affairs and former AFN-Europe command sergeant major. "But not everyone can put out great product. A guy doesn't successfully compete against AFN shops where they constantly reinforce skills and excel at their craft without terrific innate talent."
"It speaks volumes about his leadership and the folks who were mentoring him and developing his products," the Fort Walton Beach, Fla. native added. "It speaks especially well of him that he achieved this level of excellence after a relatively short time in the career field. It's impressive that he's even thinking of competing at this level let alone winning a TJ. This doesn't even enter the minds of many public affairs practitioners."
"Sgt. Boggess made a special effort to prepare and package the story, which can be as important as the raw material itself," said Master Sgt. Robert Couture, a distinguished Army broadcaster in his own right as well as the manager of the Keith L. Ware Public Affairs Competition. "That really made his story stand out. It was an outstanding product all-around, and it's a great credit to the broadcaster and the entire team that supported him."
Boggess' growing audience also includes fans closer to home.
"This is a tremendous accomplishment by Sgt. Boggess," said Lt. Col. Wayne Marotto, the 21st TSC public affairs officer. "This demonstrates the kind of talent, dedication and ingenuity we have at the 21st. For a guy at a very modest PA shop with limited resources to capture one of a tiny handful of awards at this level is very gratifying.
"Only one other Soldier within USAREUR received a comparable award," the Houston native added. "The entire Army PA family received 10 individual and unit awards - so this is an exceedingly rare achievement that speaks well not only of a fantastic young broadcaster but the team that laid the groundwork for this level of excellence. I'm proud of Sgt. Boggess, and I'm proud of the broadcast team and our whole PA shop. But it goes beyond even that - the command leadership from the commanding general to the senior staff on down encouraged and demanded excellence at every turn. They couldn't have been more supportive - and that made an enormous difference."
Boggess took the honor in stride.
"My wife used to watch my videos and say, 'this is boring, I don't want to watch this,'" he said with a smile. "So I tried to make something she'd actually want to watch."